COMPANION TO CANTO XXV
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©Roxana Preda. Companion to Canto XXV, 8 May 2018.
Updated: 3 June 2019; 22 April 2020.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Terrell, Carroll F. A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Pound, Ezra. Homage to Sextus Propertius. In Personae. 203-225.
Lorenzi, Giambattista, ed. Monumenti per servire alla Storia del Palazzo Ducale di Venezia ovvero Serie di Atti pubblici dal 1253 al 1797 che variamente lo riguardano. Tratti dai Veneti Archivii e coordinati da Giambattista Lorenzi, Parte I. dal 1253 al 1600.Tipografia del Commercio di Marco Visentini, Venezia 1868. Google Books.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. A.T. Murray. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. Perseus.
Pound, Ezra. Personae. The Shorter Poems. Eds. Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions, 1990.
- The Book of the Council Major – canto XXV starts in the same way as XXIV, with a list of events registered in a logbook. If in the preceding canto, it is the Book of Mandatesrecording the expenses of the Ferrara ducal household, here it is the Book of the Council Major, the title Pound gives to his source: Monumenti per servire alla Storia del Palazzo Ducale di Venezia ovvero Serie di Atti pubblici dal 1253 al 1797(“Monuments of the History of the Ducal Palace in Venice, 1253-1797”), edited by Giambattista Lorenzi, which delineated the history of the Ducal Palace in Venice by means of the regulations and expenses resolved by its Major Council. The document is organised chronologically; each event is dated and numbered. (See Monumenti)
Pound provides a personal selection out of these mandates and is careful to date each one: his series of records starts in 1255 and ends in 1537 (see the selected original entries in Sources). When Pound reaches the year 1415, he breaks the sequence to introduce a middle section in stark contrast with the prosaic approach of his chronicle of Venetian bureaucracy. This middle section is about Sulpicia, an obscure Roman poet whose is art is unknown, but individual and free, both from the marketplace and the celebrity cult. Pound then takes up the Monumentiagain to follow the story of Titian’s dealings with the Venetian Major Council 1513-1537, regarding a painting for which he receives a coveted privilege and steady income in advance, but which he does not deliver.
- shoot crap – Am. play at dice. (Mon 20 May 1255 and 18 March 1266).
The canto sets up the irony of a situation where the Council of Venice placed small-scale gambling under interdiction both in 1255 and 1266, yet gambled when deciding to give Titian the right to benefit from a sansaria(brokerage) on the promise that he would paint a wall of the Hall of the Grand Council cheaply. The council gambled and lost, as Titian did not deliver the promised painting for 25 years and did so only under pressure. See end of the Canto, ll.144-85.
- loggia of the Rialto – Rialto (L. rivo altus “high bank”), the marketplace of Venice in the district of San Polo, established in 1097. A bridge was built over the Grand Canal to provide access to it. On the other side there were warehouses and places of business, including the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
The “Rialto” that Pound found in the source was destroyed by fire in 1514. Today, the loggia of the Rialto, built in 1907, houses the fish market.
- In libro pactorum – L. “in the Book of Treaties.” The Pactorum, as it is called by historians, is a collection of Venetian commercial treaties with Sicily. At the time (1316), Sicily was ruled by the Spanish family of Aragon: the gift of lions that King Frederick III made to Venice was part of a comprehensive foreign policy governed by the commercial interests of the two nations (Abulafia 28-29).
The event commemorated in the Liber Pactorum telling about the two lions from Sicily is dated 15 September 1316 (Mon 10-11).
- et quod publice innotescat – L. “and which may be publicly made known.”
- dicto millessimo – L. millesimo, “on the said date,” 12 September 1316. The Latin word in the source has just one “s.”
- Lord John Soranzo – Giovanni Soranzo, Doge of Venice (1312-1328).
- Curia – Senate. Pound implicitly draws attention to the fact that at that time, the Curia was housed beneath the portico, i.e. on the ground floor of the Ducal Palace.
- Castaldio – I. castaldo, “bailiff.”
- trabesilis – L. “timbered.”
- simul commorantes – L. “living together.”
- King Frederic of Sicily – Frederick III of Aragon (1272-1337) was king of Sicily 1296-1337.
- millessimo – L. millesimo, “date.” See note 6.
- per naturam – L. “by nature.”
- vivos et pilosos – L. “alive and hairy.”
- gyring – moving in circles and spirals.
- Pontius Pilate – Pontius Pilate was thought to be “procurator” of Judea at the time of the execution of Jesus Christ in AD 33. A procurator was a treasury officer of the Roman Empire. The term is also universally used in Monumentifor designated persons in charge of acquiring artworks or materials for the Venetian Ducal Palace.
This is why the allusion to Pontius Pilate seems to be an effect of Pound’s mental associations while reading the documents. He finds that two Venetian procurators had paid two stonecutters to make a lion to put on the portico of the palace. The expense is dated 1333 but the record is made for the year 1335, which Pound includes in the poem when he reaches the date: “3 lire 15 groats to stone for making a lion.” The drafts show that the line about Pontius Pilate is a later interpolation in pencil – a textual detail which supports the hypothesis above. 72/3213.
- Donna Sorantia Soranzo – daughter of the Doge Giovanni Soranzo, mentioned above. The reason Pound may have included this detail resonates with his overall criticism of bureaucracy, which in his opinion made no difference between public and private affairs. Here Pound shows the Venetian administration actively intervening in the Doge’s personal life.
“Because she was married to Niccolo Querini (d. ca. 1330), a leader of a conspiracy to overthrow the government, she was exiled from Venice in 1320 and permitted to return only to attend her father when he was ill (1327). The next year, he died in her arms (cf. Crawford I 242-43. Gleanings from Venetian History New York 1905)” (C n. 22).
- feast of Ascension – Ascension Day, 40th day after Easter, celebrates Christ’s Ascension to Heaven. In Venice, the ceremony of the Wedding of the Sea is also traditionally celebrated on this day.
- ripa del Palazzo – embankment of the palace.
- the hall – Pound includes a reference to a committee assigned the task to decide how the hall of the Major Council should be created. Their conclusion was that the hall should be built on top of the house of the night watch overlooking the Grand Canal. It would take almost 80 years to build the hall and was used for the first time in 1419.
- stink of the dungeons – There were two sets of prisons in the Ducal Palace: underneath the Great Hall, in the house of the night watch, there were the infamous “Pozzi” (“pits”); and above, under the lead roof, there was another set reserved for political prisoners (the “Piombi” – “lead rooms”). Though the Major Council signalled the stink in 1344, it would take hundreds of years to design and build new prisons outside the Ducal Palace. These were connected to the it by a short bridge (later called “Bridge of Sighs”) built in 1614. Venice prisons.
- vadit pars – L. “be it enacted.”
- pulchritude – “beauty.”
- da parte… sincere – I. “254 for – 23 against – 4 abstentions.”
- Which is to say – Pound concludes this first part of the canto with the turning point in the history of the Ducal Palace: the building of the Hall of the Great Council on the second floor, over the house of the night watch, which had a covered loggia with columns facing the Canal Grande. (See Mon 28 December 1340 in Sources.) This architectural idea makes the building seem to float and gives it its unique character. See also note 21. See also comments by Gery (218) and Makin (162).
- murazzi – I. embankments made of Istria stone separating the Venice lagoon from the Adriatic. There are three murazzi, built in 1716: one at the Lido, one at the Pellestrina and a third at Sottomarina, near Chioggia. The murazzi help protect Venice from flooding. See more information.
- Sulpicia – Roman poet, author of six poems originally preserved with those of Tibullus in the third book of elegies, the Appendix tibulliana  and for a long time attributed to him. Sulpicia’s poems are addressed to a lover called Cerinthus. Pound does not quote or translate from her poems, but from two poems by Tibullus (III/10 and III/11) as if to suggest a re-attribution to Sulpicia (Roessel 127-28). Perseus. Sources.
- Pone metum, Cerinthe – L. “Lay aside fear, Cerinthus.” Line 15 of Tibullus’ prayer to Apollo for the health of a girl (Sulpicia) (Tibullus Book III/ poem 10). See Sources.
- Zephyrus – God of the west wind. It is considered to be the lightest and mildest wind, a spring or summer breeze.
Deus nec laedit amantes – L. “the god does not hurt lovers.” Continuation of line 15 of Tibullus’ poem above: “Pone metum, Cerinthe: deus non laedit amantes” (Tibullus Book III/poem 10). The line echoes an elegy by Propertius, which Pound included in his Homage to Sextus Propertius:
Nor is there anyone to whom lovers are not sacred at midnight
And in the Via Sciro.
If any man would be a lover
he may walk on the Scythian coast,
No barbarism would go to the extent of doing him harm,
The moon will carry his candle,
the stars will point out the stumbles,
Cupid will carry lighted torches before him
and keep mad dogs off his ankles.
Thus all roads are perfectly safe
and at any hour
Who so indecorous as to shed the pure gore of a suitor?
Cypris is his cicerone. (HSP III 209-10)
- Hic mihi dies sanctus – L. “this day is sacred to me.”
- Sero, sero – L. “Too late, too late.” See also Pound critique of the old men in canto VII.
- Nothing we made – Passage that expresses Pound’s criticism of the Venetian bureaucracy as patron and manager of art. It took magistrates 80 years to build a hall for the Grand Council in the Doge’s Palace (1340-1419). See also nn. 21-22, 26.
The sale of the proofs of A Draft of the Cantos 17-27 at Christie’s in 2004 revealed that Pound made a last-minute change in this line. Initially, it ran: “We made no thing of sheer beauty. Neither the fine house nor the carving.” Christie’s.
- gathered a sieve full of water – possible allusion to the fifty Danaides, daughters of King Danaus of Argos who murdered their husbands on their wedding night. In the underworld they were punished to fill a leaky jar with water (Roessel 126)
- Pone metum/Metum, nec deus laedit – L. “Lay aside fear/ Fear god does not harm.” Variation on Tibullus’ line, see n.31.
- bolge – I. plural of “bolgia,” a term Dante uses for a ditch or valley in the eighth circle of hell, called the “Malebolge” (“evil ditches”).
- Civis Romanus – L. “Roman citizen.”
Phaethusa – nymph, daughter of Helios, who guarded his herds and flocks in Sicily, mentioned in Od. 12: 132. Taking up a theme he had written about in canto XXI, Pound imagines her in the underworld, as a deity akin to Persephone.
Yellow wing, pale in the moon shaft,
Green wing, pale in the moon shaft,
Pomegranate, pale in the moon shaft,
White horn, pale in the moon shaft, and Titania
By the drinking hole,
steps, cut in the basalt.
Danced there Athame, danced, and there Phaethusa
With colour in the vein,
Strong as with blood-drink, once,
With colour in the vein,
Red in the smoke-faint throat. Dis caught her up. (XXI: ll.143-47)
- Phlegethon – river of fire in the underworld, mentioned by Virgil (Aeneid VI: 451).
- Pone metum – L. “lay aside.”
- Napishtim – character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the only one who was rewarded with immortality after having saved humankind from an all-destroying flood arbitrarily created by the gods. Like Noah, Napishtim built an ark and took as many living beings with it as he could. For seven days after the flood, Napishtim could see no land. After the seventh day, when land appeared, he sacrificed to the gods, who were famished, fearful and full of remorse. As they had destroyed humankind through the flood, there was no one to feed them through sacrifice. Internet Archive.
By casting the line the way he does, Pound seems to suggest Napishtim decided not to sacrifice to the gods any more after the flood. Without the blood rite of meat and wine, they could not acquire form and faded to abstract ideas. See also the earlier lines where Phaethusa takes form because she drinks the wine of sacrifice, which Pound sees in her “smoke-faint” throat.
- νόος – G. “nous.” (“thought, intellect, mind”). In Neoplatonic philosophy, the nous is the world of eternal ideas that form the underlying blueprint of reality. See Liebregts 191-99 for detailed commentary on these lines.
King Otreus – Pound invokes the end of his own canto XXIII, harking back to The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (V) where the goddess tells Anchises that she is just a girl, the daughter of King Otreus of Phrygia. Anchises then has the vision of the waves taking a solid form, as of crystal – he intuits her divinity by the love he feels for her.
King Otreus, of Phrygia,
"That king is my father."
and saw then, as of waves taking form,
As the sea, hard, a glitter of crystal,
And the waves rising but formed, holding their form.
No light reaching through them. (XXIII ll.93-98.)
- Tician – Titian of Cadore (1488-1576), Venetian painter.
- brokerage – Pound is translating the Italian word “sansaria” which denoted a very coveted source of income among Venetian artists. The Major Council decided which artist should get the privilege, which consisted of a steady revenue of roughly 120 ducats, which an artist could use for life. When Titian wrote the letter, the privilege was held by Giovanni Bellini. Titian requested the brokerage when it became vacant after the Bellini’s death and received it in 1516, three years after writing the letter.
- Sapiens Consilij … Sapiens Terrae Firmae – L. “Sage for the Council… Sage for the mainland.” The representatives of their respective bodies had a specific task: to investigate a situation and take a decision.
Reading the Monumenti in the order of entries, Pound must have noticed the democratic workings of the Venetian administration (discussions in meetings; minutes; committees; voting) and he includes these details in the poem. Canto XXV can thus be regarded as the first instance where Pound is making a critique of democracy, a subject he would consider in more detail in the Eleven New Cantos (XXXI-XLI).
- Fondamenta dei Thodeschi – I. “embankment of the Germans,” a rather confusing term, as the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the trading centre near the foot of the Rialto Bridge, had no embankment, a detail observed by Michael Alexander (174); the original terms used in Monumenti are “Fontego” or “Fontico.”
The building was laid out around an inner courtyard, had warehouses on the ground floor and living quarters reserved for the German merchants living in Venice on the upper floors. The Fondaco was the centre of the Venetian commerce with Northern Europe and an essential source of taxes. See more detail here.
- Zuan Bellin – Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), Venetian painter enjoying great prestige in Venice and Titian’s former teacher. “Zuan Bellin” is the spelling of his name used in Monumenti.
- picture of the land battle – Titian delayed painting “the battle” in the great Hall of the Council for twenty-five years. In 1537, after the Council threatened a second time to withdraw his income from the sensaria and make him pay arrears, Titian finally painted the picture, which was ready by 1538.
The Monumenti does not say what battle was meant, but seeing that it was simply called “la battaglia” the reference must have been well-known to both Titian and the Council. Indeed, as Tieze-Conrat maintains, Titian proposed to remodel an older picture in the Hall, that of the Battle of Spoleto (ca 1365) by the Paduan artist Guariento di Arpo. The difficulty faced by Titian and other Venetian painters around 1513 was that there was no one in the city capable of painting horses well. Only Pisanello and Leonardo provided workable models (Tietze Conrat 206).
Titian in 1513 was 25 years old and inexperienced (he only had work in Padua to show at the time), which throws a different light on his letter. It was an impudence, since he was applying for a privilege which was due to older, experienced painters who had worked for the Hall before, such as Vettore Carpaccio who was next in line after Bellini. Its rhetorical advantage was that it was worded as a commercial proposition, an offer of discount (see translation by M. Bacigalupo in Sources. The fact that the Council agreed to give him the sensaria in spite of his youth shows what gamble they took and how willing they were to be impressed by the promise of low cost, rather than solid work.
Titian’s painting, finally accomplished in 1538, remodelled Guariento’s Battle of Spoleto into the Battle of Cadore (1508) where the Venetians scored an important victory against the Hapsburg Empire. The painting was destroyed in the great fire that took place in the Ducal Palace in 1577. Preparatory drawings have been kept at the Louvre, under the title The Battle of Spoleto. The Uffizi Galleries in Florence and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford own copies of the work.
- Sensaria – I. “brokerage” or a “broker’s patent.” See notes 44 and 48.
- terra 1537 carta 136 – Entry no. 476 of 23 June 1537 in the [Register of the] Senate of the mainland 1537, document 136 (Mon 219). The Venetian dominions in Veneto and Lombardy were called “terra ferma” and had their own group of five magistrates elected for six months from the body of the Full College.